Off camera flash is a difficult subject for some photographers. I’ve seen a lot of posts where photographers “prefer natural light” – which (to me) translates into “I don’t like using flash”. Well sometimes you just have to really or there’s either a dull shot, or worse, no shot. Everything has its place, there are a lot of tools to learn and use and I’d say that flash isn’t something to be feared, but it is something that takes time to get to grips with to get the right results. Things like balancing flash with ambient light and the relationship between flash duration, aperture and shutter speed can be a little confusing but once a few scenarios are covered, it opens up a lot of interesting options.
I’ve got the usual mains powered strobes but I’ve often wanted something a little more portable to use when I’m either shooting outside, or at events where I’ve stood and scratched my head while looking somewhat perplexed at a plug socket about 100 feet away from where I need it to be while holding a comically short mains lead. While speedlites do work a lot of the time, they can be a bit underpowered for some subjects. I really wanted to get myself in a position where I had no trailing mains leads, no reliance on a power socket and enough power to cover everything. That might seem to be a big ask but it’s what I want to achieve – I don’t like being limited by anything.
So some months ago I decided to invest in something with a bit more power than my Speedlites. My choice was narrowed down to the Elinchrom Quadra Ranger or the Ranger RX, and the very new and very portable Profoto B2.
Now guess what? I fell in love with the Profoto. Very light, portable but also very expensive. And of course my existing Elinchrom modifiers wouldn’t fit, needing a completely new investment to add to the cost. I looked at the Elinchrom Quadra Ranger but l really wasn’t impressed with the build quality. I’m careful with my gear but I wasn’t convinced that this would survive even a year of careful handling. In fact every second hand kit I looked at seemed to have something broken on it, not a good sign.
so I decided on the Ranger RX Speed AS with standard heads. And yes it’s heavy (8kgs, ouch) but it packs a lot of power at 1100ws, and best of all, there are two ports on the power pack that let me either use two heads with full power on one and 1/2 power on the other, or reduce the output power for a single flash head by plugging it into the second port. That’s really important for me, when I’m shooting food or products I occasionally want a very shallow depth of field just to emphasise a particular area, and a low power lets me achieve that. Not having this flexibility means I have to completely set up again with lower powered speedlites, which of course takes time and effort.
I have to admit it’s a lot of weight to drag around, and as with everything there are pros and cons. The biggest drawback apart from the weight is the non proportional modelling lights, that’s annoying for portraits because you obviously want to make sure everything is correctly positioned and balanced, but it is possible to work around it. The other drawback is the leads are fixed to the flash heads and they’re too short to set up two heads for a portrait session, meaning you have to pay an eye watering price to buy an extension cable. The pros are fantastic light quality, compatibility with existing Elinchrom modifiers, a very robust battery pack with clear controls and performance. I get around 150 full power pops, with fast (3 second) recycle times, and if I step the power down it comfortably lasts for the duration of a day’s shooting. Recycle time on a lower power setting is around 1 second,
Would i recommend the Ranger RX? Yes, absolutely. It works perfectly. I use a PocketWizard MiniTT1 to trigger it via a PocketWizard Power ST4 and it works reliably, letting me adjust the power from the camera. It gets the job done and outside you can overpower the sun at midday so very useful for that (although I avoid shooting at midday as a rule but at events it can’t always be avoided). I’ve got an additional Ranger RX pack which is useful, I can have two strobes set up and have the control I need over key and fill lights for portraits.
if you’re thinking about battery flash with studio power, it’s a great choice, particularly if you want something that has a lot of power in reserve. If you just want a little bit more grunt than your speedlites, look carefully at the Quadra Ranger or the Profoto B2. They’re both a lot more compact and lighter, but bear in mind that they’re certainly not as robust and they don’t have as much power on tap.